Passion. If one were to ask what passion looks like, the best example would be the powerful embodiment by the Los Angeles Sparks' aggressive dedication in Sunday's game against the Tulsa Shock.
The home court advantage undeniably pumped up the Sparks. More than 10,000 fans decorated in yellow and purple stood and cheered in the closing minutes of each quarter. They continued to stay strong with their home team as they will make their 15th playoff appearance in franchise history, most by a team in WNBA history.
It was a playoff-determining game that pushed Los Angeles to succeed in outshooting Tulsa in the paint 26 to 50 and 55% from beyond the arc. Nneka Ogwumike explains their team's work in the matchup.
"We've just really been trying our hardest to win the best games we can," said Ogwumike. "This was a series that we needed to come out on top, and we played them an extra time. For us, there was no alternative [to winning the season series]."
This game's win seated them as the fourth-ranked team in the West.
It was women like Ogwumike and Ana Dabovic contributing in the aggressive game which led to yet another playoff birth. Ogwumike finished with 26 points, nine rebounds, three steals, and one block. Dabovic scored her 10 points in the fourth to help give the Sparks their winning score, 92-73.
With the rollercoaster season, moving to from the worst WNBA record, to clinching a playoff berth, it was Los Angeles' Candace Parker who demonstrated her pure love of the game. A season-high 33 points, going 12-17 in attempts and using her height to snag eight rebounds, Parker earned well-deserved recognition and sparked the win.
Not only did her height contribute in the paint, but Parker also had a career-high five three-pointers made in the contest. A minute to play in the second half, Parker's three hit the rim five times before going in. Enjoying the moment, she then pointed to her family courtside as they laughed in a rare moment of player-fan interaction.
Her humility and offensive awareness formed the backdrop for the story of the game as she also finished with five assists. Showing her abilities, she had an opportunity to score but dished it in the corner to teammate Kristi Toliver for three which initiated a rally and a comfortable lead of 12 in the fourth.
The next possession, she made a 24-footer to tie her season-high at 31 points. With her hand still in the air, a huge smile stretched from cheek to cheek as she embraced players.
Within the final minute of the game, the crowd stood and chanted, "MVP, MVP" as Parker received the ball down court and finished in style with a pump fake give and go for her career-high finish of 33 points.
Parker's historic game was not without challenge by the Tulsa squad. The Shock started the final quarter with a 12 to three run that cut the Spark's lead to four. It was even during this lull for Los Angeles that Parker and the team mentally stayed charged. Parker commented on this break in momentum.
"It's just mental with our team. It's just raising your level of focus as the game continues no matter what the score is," said Parker. "It's been our Achilles heel all year... We have a tendency to let up when we get ahead, and we can't do that in playoffs. We have to close out games better."
On the other hand, Coach Brian Agler positively noted his team's overall against an excellent shooting Shock team.
"...They still scored 37 points in the first half, and that's just a tribute to how good they are," said Agler. "But you could see that we were locked in today and playing pretty well. We were moving the ball and took advantage of our advantages that we had at times."
From the start, it has been a bruised and battered season for the Sparks. Many of their players were injured, and they only won three of the 14 games before July 29. However, it was after that game that Parker returned to assist the team in a stretch of 10 wins in 14 games.
After working with the head strength and conditioning Coach Kelly Dormandy, Parker bounced back on the court ready to motivate her team. Ogwumike too joined after missing over a dozen games. The two passionate players together put up 59 points against Tulsa.
With the team back and healthy, Parker feels she needs even more from the team.
"I think we can play better," said Parker. "Everyone is feeling good, but I still think that there is better basketball and out best basketball is still ahead of us."
"I was proud of the way we closed out [this] game," said Parker generally.
Even Tulsa's Coach Fred Williams complemented Parkers performance in his team's 15th loss.
"Candace is a player who's going to give it her all every time she's on the floor, and she's the type of player who can get double-doubles and do triple-doubles," said Williams. "She's really played hard and stepped up for the team tonight."
Overall, the eight-year pro showed her confidence and smiled with pride as she played with excitement. It was a fan-based support. It was a pivotal game. It was a team effort. It was an earned win. It was passion.